Monday, May 16, 2011

Profile: International AIDS Vaccine Initiative

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global nonprofit organization comprising three consortia of HIV/AIDS researchers: the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), the HIV Live-attenuated Consortium, and the Vectors Consortium. The mission of the Initiative according to the IAVI website is to “ensure the development of preventive AIDS vaccines that are not only safe and effective, but also accessible to all people”. The consortia work with more than 50 academic, government, and private institutions and have so far tested nine vaccine candidates in 11 countries, concentrating on strains present in the developing world, as they account for 95 percent of new infections.

In 2006, the Initiative celebrated 10 years, releasing a timeline of its growth during that time: IAVI was founded in 1996 in response to the global need for an HIV vaccine and other methods to curb the spread of AIDS outlined in a 1994 conference held by the Rockefeller Foundation. The initial funding support was from notable charitable and humanitarian organizations: the Rockefeller, Starr, and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations, Foundation Merieux, Until There’s  a Cure, and the World Bank. The initiative also garnered support from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Later support came from European governments and joint ventures were pursued with the National AIDS Trust. In 1998, IAVI released its “Scientific Blueprint for AIDS Vaccine Development”. The initiative is now funded by both private and public institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and community groups.

In 2009, the AIDS vaccine community had proof-of concept success in Thailand, showing that a combinatorial vaccine was able to prevent 30% of HIV infections. Though this was not a success per se, it was a small step toward proving that their work is not fruitless. The research community made additional progress in 2010 with broadly neutralizing antibody research, the focus of one of its consortia. The antibodies identified by NAC in 2009 have been taken up by other research groups in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who may have found a model antibody for preventing more than 90% of HIV infections, the best vaccine candidate to date.

The goal of a vaccine is to prevent new infections. Since AIDS emerged in the 1980s, 30 million deaths have been attributed to the syndrome, and UNAIDS estimates from numbers released in 2010 that more than 33 million people are currently living with HIV, the AIDS virus. The virus attacks cells of the immune system, leading to a state of immunodeficiency. This state allows opportunistic infections to wreak havoc and kill the infected individual, the syndrome known as AIDS. Despite decreased infections rates due to educational campaigns regarding safe sex and needle sharing, it is estimated that nearly 7100 people are infected with HIV each day. More than half of all infections occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that also accounted for three-fourths of all AIDS-related deaths in 2008. Yet, the infection rates are also increasing in more developed countries, including China, Germany, Britain, and Australia. The lack of control of the epidemic over nearly three decades re-emphasizes the need for a vaccine and other more global preventative measures.

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